Redistricting has us concerned
December 22, 2021
Growing, growing, gone?
That seems to be the direction for House District 47 as the Wyoming Legislature, particularly the Joint Corporations Committee, continues their most recent redistricting efforts. What is currently the largest district in the state of Wyoming—12,188 square miles—appears to be on the chopping block as legislators attempt to go through their once-in-a-decade process of redistricting.
We would like to first preface our concerns by stating we can appreciate the difficult task the legislators of the Joint Corporations Committee have before them.
According to memorandums from the Legislative Service Office (LSO), it used to be much easier to set districts before the 1960s. According to a May 26, 2021 document from the LSO, redistricting plans essentially required each county would constitute at least one senate and house district. That changed following the 1960 Census after a federal district court invalidated a portion of the 1963 Wyoming redistricting plan.
At that time, the court noted the requirements followed by the Wyoming Legislature up until then would mean the six most populous counties in the state would receive eight senators while the six least populous counties would only receive six senators. The court also noted strict compliance with Article 3, Section 3 of the Wyoming Constitution, which dictated senators and representatives would be apportioned according to the number of inhabitants in each county, was “wholly unreasonable, untenable and impractical” as the result would be more than 300 members in the state legislature.
Yet another legal challenge legislators have been asked to keep in mind during this most recent process is the 1991 decision of Gorin v. Karpan. It is due to this decision, specifically, that from 1992 forward two house districts were nested within one senate district. The 1992 redistricting plan ensured there was a less than 10 percent population deviation between the house and the senate. It was during this process when the house and senate boundaries began to deviate from county boundaries.
From 2000 to 2010, House District 47 didn’t appear to be any larger than the other house districts in Wyoming. It encompassed all of Carbon County—with the exception of Rawlins and Sinclair which were in House District 15—and a portion of Albany County, specifically Rock River. Following the 2010 Census, redistricting drastically altered the district to its current size. House District 47 ballooned to include Bairoil, Wamsutter, Point of Rocks and Farson.
Historically, those who represented House District 47 came from Carbon County. These included the likes of Loren “Teense” Willford (1993 - 2002), Kurt Bucholz (2003 - 2006), Jeb Steward (2007 - 2012) and Jerry Paxton (2013 - present).
While the borders of House District 47 had expanded to include a portion of Sweetwater County, the bulk of the district was Carbon County. The expansion of the borders have made it more and more difficult for anyone who represents the district, or wishes to represent the district, to travel and meet with constituents.
What is proposed doesn’t appear much better than what is currently in place. Along with removing House District 47, the state adopted proposal expands House District 39 from part of Green River to include the Little Snake River Valley, the Platte Valley, Walcott and Elk Mountain. House District 15, meanwhile, would be expanded to include Hanna and Medicine Bow and descend down a portion of Wyoming Highway 71.
Admittedly, the proposed expansion of House District 39 is slightly smaller than House District 47 at just 9,542 square miles.
While we understand the Joint Corporations Committee is tasked with establishing a district’s boundaries to include a certain number of people, we believe the proposal to remove House District 47 is misguided. We point to a September 3, 2021 memorandum from the LSO which reminds the Joint Corporations Committee that “election districts should be contiguous, compact and reflect a community of interest”. The memorandum also reads “significant geographical features should be considered in establishing districts”.
To that point, we would respectfully argue there is not a “community of interest” in the proposed expansion of House District 39. The interests, as well as the economics, of Green River are different from those of the Platte Valley, the Little Snake River Valley, Walcott and Elk Mountain. We would also argue Interstate 80 and how often it closes during the winter months be considered. The 168 miles from Green River to Elk Mountain is virtually impossible from November to March, at least.
The question must be asked; could anyone elected to represent House District 39 as it is proposed do an adequate job?
Our concern is the expansion of both House District 39 and House District 15 could lead to complaints of a representation issue and an urban versus rural mindset. The chances of anyone outside Green River being elected to House District 39 are slim. So, too, are the chances of anyone outside of Rawlins being elected to House District 15.
Again, we can appreciate the difficult task which the Joint Corporations Committee is undertaking. We simply ask them to consider other alternatives, one in which the residents of the district can feel they are accurately represented in Cheyenne.
If you, too, are concerned about the current redistricting efforts, reach out to representatives Jerry Paxton and Donald Burkhart, Jr. or Senator Larry Hicks. You can also reach out to the chairs of the Joint Corporations Committee, Senator Ogden Driskill or Representative Dan Zwonitzer.
Representative Donald Burkhart, Jr.
Representative Jerry Paxton
Representative Dan Zwonitzer
Senator Larry Hicks
Senator Ogden Driskill